A MAN who claimed he needed the money after being caught trying to smuggle 17kg of cannabis through Belfast International Airport has been jailed.
Antonio Luis Rodriguez Martinez, 35, of Alicante, Spain was found with eight large vacuum-sealed plastic bags containing herbal cannabis on March 20 this year.
The drugs, which had been hidden within his luggage and were bound for Cork, had an estimated street value of £177,000.
At Antrim Magistrates' Court this week, Martinez was sentenced to 28 months' imprisonment after pleading guilty to possession of a class B drug and possession of a class B drug with intent to supply.
"Antonio Luis Rodriguez Martinez claimed it was money worries that had led him to attempt to smuggle drugs into Northern Ireland," said National Crime Agency Belfast Branch Commander David Cunningham.
"However, involvement in organised crime isn't a route to financial security, and as well as being no better off, Martinez has lost his liberty, too."
During an interview with NCA officers, Martinez said he was offered €2,000 to bring the case containing the drugs into Northern Ireland.
He claimed he agreed to transport the drugs due to financial hardship.
Martinez told officers he planned to travel by bus to Cork, where he was to receive payment from an unknown person.
After making the exchange, Martinez was due to fly back to Spain from Dublin Airport.
"This seizure has stopped a significant amount of drugs from ending up on our streets, denying the organisers of this smuggling attempt their profits," added Cunningham.
“The NCA will continue to work with partners, including Border Force, to tackle the drugs trade and protect the communities of Northern Ireland."
John Oldham, Deputy Director of Border Force for Scotland and Northern Ireland, said: "Drugs torment our society, fuelling violence on our streets which our communities are forced to endure.
"We are committed to tackling this menace, as this seizure and others like it clearly show."